I asked my six-year-old Ryder to drive out-of-town with me to pick up a used glider for the twins due in February. He wanted to stay home, but I insisted. He should get a sense for “helping” his dad (though a squirt his size isn’t much help with furniture). On the way, he kicked me, told me he hates me, I’m “a terrible daddy”, and he wishes he “could crush me like a bug” (he gets that from me, but when I say it, I’m joking).
I wavered between defeat and resolve, and then rage (from a cauldron, primitive and deep inside me). How could he have so little respect for his father? Where is the fear? When a father asks for help, a son helps! Maybe I should put him to work in the fields!!
Fifty years ago, he would have gotten the belt. In the go-go 1980s, the “corporal punishment” of the day became the spanking you and I remember best, and later the fully emasculated “timeout” (ugh). No tools left in the toolbox, and the EQ (emotional quotient) of a giant baboon, I was dumbfounded. The bubbles (from my cauldron) screamed he should be taught his place in the pecking order, but the modern-day, Dr.-Phil-version-of-self knew that was not only illegal, but almost certainly wrong.
Raising entitled brats is one of my biggest fears (aside from world governments puffing out chests and pointing fingers like well-armed schoolyard goons…).
Being a dad is like walking a tight rope.
The hardest part is not all the extra work. Doing everything for kids is a giant pain-in-the-ass, but it’s also manageable, solved like most problems with the right combination of time and money. That part is mainly sacrifice, or as an economist would say, “opportunity-cost” (things to think about before having sex without condoms…).
The tricky part is getting kids to do the tough things for themselves. Raising well-mannered, mindful, disciplined humans too easily becomes a battle of wills. In a rat-race world, it’s much more efficient to pick up the mess, make their meals, do the projects, and skip table-manners altogether (this becomes painfully obvious when the family is out to brunch and you realize the kids are like chimpanzees, hooting and spreading ketchup all over themselves like it’s face paint). It’s called a fork damn it!!
In a cosmic twist of satire, we are conditioned to raise entitled brats, especially if our mind is elsewhere (like trying to support a family in a world with an elastic money supply controlled by cronies). Lulled to sleep by the babies you thought you were having, they gradually turn into boys and girls who grow to be men and women (while you’re trying to overshoot KPIs at work, put away some savings, find time to throw the football, scratch items off the wife’s honey-do list, pay the mortgage, the credit card, and the car payment, plus replace the damn dishwasher before it explodes again…).
In the early years when parenting habits are formed, you have no choice but to do everything for them. I got this…it’s my job to fix things when they cry.
We get accustomed to this, as do they. You can easily go the next 4-6 years on autopilot, then find yourself on the side of a Texas highway being abused both verbally and physically by a six-year-old Mussolini. “Bad daddy! Bad daddy! Bad daddy!!”
The risk of getting this wrong is a grave one. Spoiled little humans will not only be ruined socially, but totally unequipped to handle a world that is far from fairytale, even for those lucky enough to get ahead in the game. The ultimate irony awaits the unprepared: To have given everything as a father, and failed so miserably.
My daughter Mia is better, but also in for a tough dose of reality. Life is harder than she is used to, but she is better at moving on from disappointment, collaborating towards compromise. Looking back, we had higher expectations of her. When Ryder was born, Mia became the “big girl”. Suddenly expected to do more for herself, she did just that.
Ryder was “the baby” well past four years, and because of his volatile temper (which we can trace to food sensitivities), we became conditioned to pander his every whim, letting those toddler demands turn into the entitled attitude of an aspiring dictator.
The key, it seems clear now, is to ask more of your little ones every day. “Duh”, all the moms are thinking. Bear with us, ladies. Dads always learn the hard way. Dish out consequences regularly (un-fun as it is), lest you become a doormat.
Have I done this? Not as well as I should, but I am getting there. The key ingredient I can bring to the discussion (as a giant baboon, but also a manager in the workplace) is an incentive-based system, with clear, consistent rules, that’s easy to understand and automate. A system that provides feedback to children and brings harmony to the household. A welcome respite from constant nagging, and the battle-of-wills.
Your kids can and will become engaged, disciplined, contributing members of the family, with the right attitudes, and no fuss. You just need the right system.
Watch the video (six minutes), and then download the Tracking Matrix (free).
Implementing it means first calibrating the inputs to meet your home life, i.e. modifying the allowance to suit your budget (we use $5.00 per week), adjusting chores and rewards to meet your expectations, and the interests and age-appropriateness of your children. That takes about 30 minutes. Then, just use a few minutes at dinner to discuss if daily chores and expectations are met. In two weeks, new habits are formed. Presto!
The No-More-Nagging System is automated, meaning there is nothing to log when chores are done as expected. The only occasions to log entries is if children (a) don’t perform (and they will once they understand the system, because of the incentives), (b) redeem awards, or (c) request and receive approval to earn extra points by doing other jobs.
Stop nagging, and start winning.
Shit, did I just paraphrase Dr. Laura Schlessinger? It’s times like these I feel like an old dud, and miss shot-gunning beers like it’s 1999.
External Motivators…Really Phil?
Yes, that’s what my wife said too. Many parents don’t like these, including Ashley. I get it. Kids should be intrinsically motivated, not to earn rewards, but for an inner sense of pride, and the desire to help the family. We don’t want mere point-junkies.
True, but these things are not mutually exclusive. You and I work for both pride and a paycheck, right?
The No-More-Nagging System works like life in the real world, designed to build good habits, align interests, and admittedly, just keep the damn house in order. It will also begin to confer the basics of money management, including the most important and overlooked component of financial planning, which is saving.
There is always room for improvement (i.e. paying interest on points saved? incorporating entrepreneurship?), and we will do that together. Consider this v1.0, and submit your feedback, especially after implementation. And heck, if you don’t like it, don’t use it. Stick to butting heads, or whatever works for you. Your kids, your call.
On our way home, cooler heads prevailed. Ryder apologized, sincerely and unsolicited. I asked him why he said those things to me, and he genuinely didn’t know. I’ve never seen him so thoughtful. He wanted to understand his emotions, but couldn’t. He didn’t mean those things, but had been fully engulfed in a fit of hateful rage.
What he didn’t understand (that I am beginning to see) is that his behavior wasn’t entirely his fault. Though he must take responsibility for his words and actions (no matter how much I screw them up), it was also my fault, for conceding too much, and muting expectations of him over the years. I introduced the Point System thereafter, and he couldn’t be more excited, even about the work. He is relishing the responsibility to learn, earn, save, and spend. Now we just need to convince his mom!
Whatever you do in your home, be wary of expecting too little, unearned praise, and auto-pilot-parenting. Kids grow so fast, and expectations must grow with them. Implement systems and mindsets that reward performance and initiative, and let your kids do the rest. They will appreciate you (and themselves) long after.
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